Flu season is upon us. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports increasing and widespread flu activity across the United States. According to CDC surveillance, influenza-like illness activity is higher than it was during the peak of the 2014-2015 flu season and so far hospitalization rates are similar to that same time period.
While not a disaster, the lengthy and somewhat unpredictable nature of the flu season, which can last through March, can have a sustained and pervasive impact on the public health and healthcare systems. Hospitals are experiencing high volumes of patients with influenza-like systems; the CDC reports 41.9 hospitalizations per 100,000 people in the US. Thirty seven children have died from the flu this year. Additionally, while there is not a national shortage, some areas of the U.S. have experienced temporary shortages of antiviral drugs due to high demand.
Local health departments are working hard to mitigate the negative health outcomes of this year’s flu season, and remain engaged in flu preparedness and response activities. They conduct influenza surveillance, provide vaccinations to community members, and partner with community organizations such as schools, pharmacies, and health care organizations to communicate with the public about flu prevention and treatment. Working with healthcare coalitions and healthcare partners, local health departments take steps to prevent and address healthcare surge situations and vaccine or antiviral shortages. Check out this blog from Jenifer Leaf Jaeger, MD, MPH, Interim Medical Director, Boston Public Health Commission, to learn more about what her health agency is doing. Read about a local health department’s approach to fighting the flu in a rural community here.
The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) is committed to supporting local health departments in their efforts to fight the flu. We have compiled a list of resources from a variety of sources that can help local health departments prepare for and respond to this severe flu season.
NACCHO’s Influenza Toolkit (accessible via the NACCHO toolbox) includes more than 100 resources, tools, and templates by and for local health departments. Specific resources include example response plans, just in time training presentations, inventory control resources, and communications templates in English and Spanish. Many of the tools address the specific needs of individuals particularly vulnerable to flu including living in long-term care facilities, homeless, children, and pregnant women, resources, tools, and templates by and for local health departments. The tools accessible with a free NACCHO.org log in.
This recording from the CDC for public health professionals discusses how to reduce the spread of influenza and address shortages in antiviral drugs.
The Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response released a pandemic influenza planning checklist, which has helpful flu planning and response strategies for healthcare coalitions.
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What can YOU do to stop the flu?
Although local health departments have a large role in preventing and mitigate the impact of flu in their communities, there are many steps that individuals can take to fight the flu. Getting the flu vaccine, which has been proven to be safe and effective, is the first and most important step to protect against the flu. This is particularly important for children, individuals over age 65, pregnant women, and other vulnerable populations who are at a high risk of developing serious complications from the flu. Visit CDC’s Flu Vaccine Finder page for more information about where to get the flu vaccine. Additionally, every day steps such as frequent hand washing, covering your cough and sneezes, and staying home if you feel sick can help prevent the spread of the flu and other viruses.
Check out the below resources for more information on ensuring your communities are vaccinated: